Google searches, social media map out flu cases across Canada
Published Tuesday, January 8, 2013 7:46PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 8, 2013 9:52PM EST
As an unusually intense flu season grips much of North America, tracking the flu has become a lot easier online, thanks to Google and social media.
Google’s Flu Trends feature tracks search terms to map out flu activity around the world. Every time a user enters “flu” or related words into the search engine, Google collects that data to estimate how widespread the illness is in specific regions.
As of Jan. 7, Google’s Flu Trends map indicates “high” flu activity across much of Canada and especially in Quebec, where flu outbreaks are said to be “intense.” The only province showing “moderate” flu activity is New Brunswick.
South of the border, the flu is hitting many parts of the U.S. hard, including every state bordering Canada, according to Google’s estimates.
Google points out that not every person who searches flu symptoms or remedies is actually sick, “but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together.”
“We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening,” Google explained on the Flu Trends site.
Meanwhile, a Baltimore-based start-up is using social media networks to gauge where people are suffering from the flu, by tracking Facebook and Twitter posts.
Sickweather.com says it can detect flu infection patterns before health authorities do by looking at real-time posts from people complaining about being sick or going to see the doctor.
Sickweather.com also maps out its findings and even offers visitors to the site the option to check, via Twitter or Facebook, which one of their friends are sick at the moment.
The site also tracks reports of other illnesses and infections, such as whooping cough and stomach viruses.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also posts weekly reports on flu activity across Canada, mostly based on lab-confirmed cases.